Home, Sweet Home

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By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She is completing her M.A. in Religious Studies at CU Boulder. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

When I moved to Boulder, CO for graduate school two years ago, I entered the program with a cohort of students from all over the U.S., so — perhaps unsurprisingly — one of the immediate questions everyone asked was, “Where are you from?” Then came the task, of course, of keeping track of who was from where, and so on. Being in a new place and surrounded by new people, our identities were quickly determined for each other by our former city/state. so I was initially labeled as “the girl from Alabama” — by both my cohort and even some professors.

I’d be lying if I said I was never reluctant to identify myself by my home state of Alabama, but this was the first time in my life where that signifier took somewhat of a new shape. I was “the girl from Alabama” now. Where before leaving the state I may have casually enjoyed watching football games, occasionally said “Roll Tide” as a sign of approval, participated in the daily complaining about how hot it was as if it was somehow unusual, etc., it wasn’t something that I ever considered as part of my identity. In retrospect, it was likely because these were so common-place where I lived that to me — to us, I should perhaps say — it wasn’t seen so much as an identity-marker, but rather just part of the everyday. It was uninteresting — mundane, perhaps, in the sense that everyone in the Southeastern US likes, or is at least familiar with, football and saying “Roll Tide” is just part of the vernacular. In fact, it was something I likely tried to distance myself from, in a sense, to assert my individuality amongst a crowd. To me, these things were just part of my day-to-day life. Continue reading

Points of Contact

Picture 16Do you know that painting? It’s detail from Norman Rockwell’s 1951, “Saying Grace,” which sold for $46 million a couple years ago. It came to mind after an exchange that I had over on Twitter the other day, in which I wrote the following:

Picture 17The painting nicely illustrates the point — that classification is the trace of a social situation in which difference and similarity are being worked out. For, to break it down to it’s simplest, I’d argue that those two figures on the right are “saying grace” or “being religious” only inasmuch as the two on the left are watching them. Continue reading

The Department is Winning the Internet Today

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The Department has taken over the Marginalia Review of Books today. The popular site for reviews of work in religious studies is currently featuring interviews with both Prof. Merinda Simmons and me, Prof. Mike Altman.

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Classifying Classification in the Study of Religion

dandelionsclassificationSo ends the late Charles J. Adams‘s classic entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica on the topic of “Classification of Religions.” Or consider the Encyclopedia of Religion‘s own entry on the same topic (not updated in the second edition), this time written by the late Harry B. Partin — which concludes as follows: Continue reading

What Does it Really Mean to be ‘Mentally Ill’?

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Sarah Sawyer is a senior at the University of Alabama studying International Relations and Chinese. She spends her ‘free time’ studying and wondering if Publix will have a sale on its wine anytime soon. She wrote this post for Dr. Ramey’s class, REL 321: Religion and Identity in South Asia.

“Many people feel ashamed because our society places illogical taboos on mental health issues and our silence can have deadly consequences.” These wise words are those of UA’s very own Elise Goubet as she ‘outed’ herself as having a mental illness in a powerful piece in the Crimson White on October 15th. In this article, Ms. Goubet asks for her fellow students to spark the conversation of what it means to identify as ‘mentally ill’ within a culture that has created so many stigmas around mental health issues.

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Authenticity and the Nation-State, Or Why Thai Food is a Lot Like ISIS

 

tumblr_mdls46sPdt1qawtgfo1_1280We love Thai food around here. But how do you know the food on your plate is actually Thai? What makes it Thai? The sign in the restaurant window? The “Thai tea?” What is “authentic Thai food?”

Well, the government of Thailand is sick and tired of your sad excuses for Thai food and they have a plan to ensure you never settle for fake Thai food again. It’s not just a plan, it’s a robot. Continue reading

The Dialectics of Identification

manlyhallsignYes, our Department is housed on the second floor of Manly Hall. It’s named after the second president of the University of Alabama, Basil Manly Sr (who held the office between 1837 and 1855). In fact, the president’s office was once in this building, on the ground floor (before the Greek Revival-styled President’s Mansion was built in 1841 and then first occupied by Manly himself), as well as dorms for students.

And the other day the building got a new sign. Continue reading

On Not Knowing Where to Look

galleryThose who sustain this idealized image of culture do so … by mistaking the dominant fraction … of a given group for the group or “culture” itself.  At the same time, they mistake the ideological positions favored and propagated by the dominant fraction for those of the group as a whole…. Scholarly misrecognitions of this sort replicate the misrecognitions and misrepresentations of those the scholars privilege as their informants. (Bruce Lincoln, “Theses on Method,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 8/3 [1996]: 226)

Living out one such misrecognition, my Durban roommate [when we attended the 2000 meeting of the International Association for the History of Religions world congress], Willi Braun, and I took a cab one day from the Congress hotel to the tourist bureau in downtown Durban to see a much discussed African art exhibition — art, like religion, thought by many to symbolize the authentic, aesthetic sense (an analogy used by Rudolf Otto in the opening pages of The Idea of the Holy) and struggle of a people.  But, unbeknownst to us, it happened to be National Women’s Day in South Africa and the bureau was closed when we got there.  Much like Gertrude Stein’s comment (often paraphrased by the late-Ninian Smart, or so I’m told), when we got there, there was no “there” there — a fitting example of what Žižek calls the illusion of traditional realism: Continue reading

Big R and Little r

upperandlowercaseI recently wrote a review essay on the current state of scholarship on the category “religion” for the European history of religions journal, Numen (which comes out in 2015, I gather). It was fun to write, since its been 20 years since I first wrote a review essay on the same topic — “just how far have we come?” now becomes the question. Continue reading